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May 2011

Lexx: The Dark Zone - season 1

cast: Brian Downey, Eva Habermann, Michael McManus, and Louise Wischermann

creator: Paul Donovan

346 minutes (15) 1997
Mediumrare DVD Region 2

RATING: 7/10
review by Andrew Darlington




Lexx starship




Lexx cast




Lexx DVD boxset
Lexx: The Dark Zone - season one

"He didn't even do anything. It's a mix-up."
"Life's a mix-up..."


Forget Star Trek. Forget Babylon 5. Forget Battlestar Galactica. Forget them all. This is something entirely different. This is like no TV sci-fi ever glimpsed before or since. Like no other sci-fi extravaganza in the universe; or either of the two universes. The Cluster is the core of the league of 20,000 dark planets ruled by the warped religious tyranny of 'His Divine Shadow'. Its totalitarian gothic madness is grotesquely stylised, exaggerated into absurdity. Its unpleasant morbidity is topped off with humour at its blackest, a sick slickness set to a soundtrack both operatic and electronic. The action centres on four diverse and genetically-altered characters aboard Lexx, an enormous organic living starship that eats planets.

As it explains "I am the Lexx. I am the most powerful weapon of destruction in the two universes. I was grown on the Cluster which is ruled by His Shadow. The food was good there. My Captain is Stanley Tweedle. I blow up planets for him..." As can be gauged from his name, Stanley H. Tweedle (Brian Downey) is far from your average Captain Kirk to-infinity-and-beyond space hero. Flabby, cowardly, vain, self-centred, devious and opportunistic, to the rebels he's also arch-traitor. As events begin he's a security guard class four, clad in his utilitarian-red uniform, in the dystopian Ostral-B correction centre where executions and mass organ-extractions operate with conveyor-belt messiness. Charged with 991 demerits Stanley is facing disciplinary action - but can't be demoted because he's already operating at the lowest possible level, so he's due either triple organ-donation, or termination.

In the more bizarrest of bizarre love triangles, Stanley fumblingly letches after Zev Bellringer (Eva Habermann). She starts out as a plain overweight prisoner charged with 'failing to perform her wifely duties'. At a trial by hologram she's sentenced - by a jerkily programmed virtual judge, to be transformed into a 'love-slave'. She emerges physically remoulded into voluptuous platinum-blonde sexpot lushness, every geek-adolescent's wet-dream - albeit one accidentally enhanced with Cluster-lizard DNA, added much as Seth Brundle becomes part-fly in The Fly. This ensures she's 'not always a nice lady'. Leading to the kind of behaviour never seen in Babylon 5!

A sex-bomb in futuristic space-glam, she's smart enough to redirect the psychological reprogramming at 790, a detached robot-head (voiced by Jeffrey Hirschfield) which subsequently falls hopelessly in love with her, addressing her as 'love dumpling' or 'angel-breath' and itself as a robot "reduced by circumstances to a mere head" which "wants to live in your underpants." 'Hot and wired' it dreams that "I found her fist in my neck-stump and pleaded for it to stay." Robot-head composes epic poems of adoration for Zev, but loathes and despises the 'protein-sack' Tweedle. While Zev manipulates Tweedle when it's convenient to do so, but - as a love-slave, her raging hormonal desires are "beyond measurement, uncontrollable, a white-hot volcano of desire," and she hopelessly lusts in turn after tall cadaver-pale Kai (Michael McManus), who is the ultimate emo-goth, in that he's technically dead, and hence incapable of fulfilling her needs.

Kai is "the last specimen of the now-extinct species of romantic dreamer" known as the Brunnen-G who were exterminated in a war, against His Divine Shadow, 2,008 years ago. There's a time prophet prediction that he's destined to kill His Divine Shadow - eternity supposedly loops in a circle, so by looking deeply into 'days of future past' it's possible to prophecy events yet-to-happen. To avoid such a predestined outcome he's doomed to 'punishment beyond death', kept in cold-storage in a kind of cryogenic suspension-cabinet, periodically reanimated by the infusion of proto-blood, to be used as an undead 'divine assassin'. "I am dead," he drones, "I'm an animated corpse. A mockery of life. I have no future." When his limbs are casually lopped off and his head neatly sliced in two he simply self-reassembles, and continues.

This assortment of odd characters are brought together when the public execution of rebellious heretic Thodun is disrupted by a flying bug-bomb that crawls from out of his nostril and wreaks havoc. In the confusion, Stanley, Zev, and robot-head escape their various predicaments into the 'special projects area', where they're joined by Kai within the Lexx. Organically grown into the form of a vast hyperspace dragonfly, its fleshy interior is dodgily suggestive, moulded into dangling throbbing phallic intestinal body-parts that quiver, dangle, and drip bio-gloop. It also contains Lyekka (Louise Wischermann), a cannibalistic plant-woman, and a hall of disembodied brains, a network of the living predecessor-brains of earlier Divine Shadows, soft, squidgy and killable. When the ship's control-key is inadvertently imprinted into Stanley's hand, he's able to activate Lexx and direct it out beyond the frontier, pursued by the newly-regenerated Divine's MegaShadow destroyer-ship. The Lexx escapes through a spatial anomaly called the Fractel-Core, a kind of black hole that zaps the fugitives from the Light Universe into the Dark Zone - 'the universe of evil and chaos'. But both universes are equally amoral realms where bad stuff just happens, and keeps on happening.

A summary of this episodic and digressive plot doesn't come close to doing it justice, and can't even begin to capture its essential oddness. Perhaps it's something to do with the fall-out from the unlikely production mismatch, the German-Canadian funding arrangement? Whatever, season one - first screened during April 1997, consists of four two-hour TV movies - with opener I Worship His Shadow, followed by Super Nova in which the Lexx's ne'er-do-well crew seek the dead Brunnen ancestral home-world to retrieve supplies of proto-blood necessary to extend Kai's un-life. Zev takes a fetchingly nude shower, guaranteed to get male viewers as fixated as robot-head. A hammy theatrical Tim Curry guests as the holographic poet-man guide to the 'memory catacombs', with the add-on proviso that the Lexx-team are to be harvested and added to the library in laser-disc form.

There's a highly unlikely musical interlude as Zev and Kai serenade each other like some mutant Jason and Kylie. Meanwhile, the Brunnen sun is held in stasis, prevented from going supernova by a series of orbital stabilisers, and the ongoing gag of their deactivation then reactivation, deactivation and reactivations, deactivation and reactivation is even sillier yet. In the third slab - Eating Pattern, Rutger Hauer appears as the leader of a Mad Max resource-world infested by parasitic worms, involving the kind of visceral body-horror you associate with a David Cronenberg film.

Finally there's the malevolent Malcolm McDowell in Giga Shadow, as the Lexx returns to the Light Zone to find the population of the Cluster 'cleansed', which is a euphemism for being fed to the last giant insect survivor of the insect wars which controls the Divine Order, their flesh used to fuel preparation for its metamorphosis into the Gigashadow, the "bones and skulls spat out to litter the streets." The Gigashadow will be "the end, and it is the beginning, and the new life beyond order." Zev uses her cluster-lizard counterpart to assist Kai in destroying it, thereby fulfilling the prophecy. Setting up the absurd premise for what is to come. The later three series settle down into the more conventional 45-minute episodes, as the fantasies grow increasingly bizarre with swarms of Matrid-drones consuming the chaotic universes, warring planets of Fire and Water, and eventually antics on an Earth-parody itself.

As soon as SF becomes formulaic and predictable, it's time to change the rules. Lexx is a rule-changer, an upsetter. Its sense of random lunacy is closest to Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy... especially the blink-and-you'll-miss-it bit when a plague-survivor sent into space to seek aid for his stricken planet is accidentally and anonymously smashed by Lexx, unnoticed. Or maybe the more cerebral of the Red Dwarf episodes - and in series four both Craig Charles and Hattie Hayridge guest. But this is of an altogether darker hue, even when it's being laugh-out-loud funny. It's most definitely not mainstream TV. It barely even qualifies as cult. But it's loads of fun. Forget Star Trek. Forget Babylon 5. Forget Battlestar Galactica. Forget them all. This all happens in a different universe entirely.



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